God Says: Look to the Past to Learn How Bright Is the Future! (Isaiah Sermon 59 of 81)
January 04, 2015 | Andrew Davis
Called to Magnificent Mission
Amen. Well, God has called us as Christians to an astonishing work of worldwide and eternal significance in the Gospel. We are called on to be witnesses to Christ and we're called on to share the gospel and to be part of the advancing church of Jesus Christ. Satan is very skillful at wrapping invisible spiritual cords around our hearts, cords of fear that keep us from proclaiming the gospel plainly and boldly. I think every one of us in this room, we know what that feels like. You feel tied down and you feel bound up by fear of man, fear of what people will think. And so we are unable to fulfill the works, the good works that God has gone ahead of us, to prepare in advance that we should walk in them because we're bound up with these invisible cords, these chains. Now, the word of God has power, it is sharp, it is living and active, and it can cut through those bonds, it can cut through those chains, those invisible chains on our hearts and make us free and make us bold to be witnesses for Christ.
Thursday, October 31, 1991, Halloween night. 1991 was a night that I will never forget. It was the night of a hurricane in Massachusetts. Halloween hurricane. There was a movie made later about it, about that storm and starring George Clooney. It was called The Perfect Storm. It's a true story of a triple storm system that came together, collided, and whipped itself into a massive frenzy. The storm lashed the east coast of the United States with high waves and coastal flooding. Waves as high as 30 feet crashed into the eastern seaboard, including Massachusetts, where Christy and I were living at the time. Now, the previous year in 1990, at Halloween time I had led an outreach, an evangelistic outreach to Salem, Massachusetts. Salem, of course, is the place of the famous Salem Witch Trials. But what many people who don't live in Massachusetts, don't know is that it's also a center of real witchcraft now and that people, registered witches from all over the country, indeed all over the world go and live there, so they can be together. It's a very spiritually dark place where Satan has a throne.
And so the year before in 1990, I had led an outreach there and we brought tracts, and we went, especially this one place. Laurie Cabot's House, Laurie Cabot was named by Michael Dukakis, who was Governor at that time, as the official witch of the state of Massachusetts as though our state needed an official witch. But we had an official witch, her name was Laurie Cabot and her house was a real focal point for college students in the area on Halloween and they would go and party and she opened up her house like a little bit of an occult museum and people are interested and they'd line up outside her house. So, perfect opportunity for us to witness, so I thought. And so we went and we were sharing the gospel, we were passing out tracts until Laurie Cabot's daughter came out and came right at me, asked what I was doing and I told her, and she spun on her heel, went back in and called the police, and the Salem police came and talked to me, found out what we're doing, etcetera, and then said, "Look you're not doing anything wrong, but this is a really busy night for us, would you mind just moving on."
And we were done, we passed out all of our tracts, it was time to go home. Well, I figured the next year, even better time for ministry and outreach, and so I wrote a little tract on the occult in the Bible and we printed out a bunch of those and I got a team ready and we were going to go. But as the day drew near for that outreach, I started becoming more and more fearful about it, about what had happened the week before. I mean, a year before, the persecution, the things. You know what I'm talking about, that satanic fear that starts coming over your heart, like these invisible chains. And then the storm came along, this epic storm. Unlike any I'd ever seen in my life. That Thursday was one of the longest days I can never remember. I was not a pastor, at that point. I was working as an engineer and just getting through the work day was so hard and I was talking to Christi and I was saying, "I think I'm just going to call it off. Nobody's going to be there. And storm and wind and rain and all this." And she said, "I think you need to go, alright. There's going to be college students there, you know that." And so she really convicted me. But what really convicted me was I was doing scripture memorization in Isaiah 51, the very chapter we're in today.
I think in some ways I've been waiting for more than two decades to preach this sermon today. Because I was going over verses 12-16 that day. And I want you to look at it with me. You just heard Gary read it. But I felt like every word was speaking right to me. Have you ever had that happen before with scripture, where everything in this text is talking to you, this is what it says, to remind you. "I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread. For I am the LORD your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand- - I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, 'You are my people.'"
That was the text I was memorizing that day, seemed relevant to me. Look at the points of contact. I was living in terror of what people would do to me or think about me. I was forgetting about God's amazing power. I was more fearful of man than of God, so that I didn't want a witness. And here was God churning up the sea so that its waves were rowing like I'd never seen before in all my life, and God was going to rescue spiritual prisoners through us and God had put His words in my mouth and he was going to cover us with the shadow of His hand, and I must go and lead that outreach. I must go.
Well, that night was one of the most incredible of my life. We witnessed to tons of college students that were, in fact, there. Christi was right about that. They were going to be there. And so, they were. And I witnessed to a Native American man, who was blind, what we would call an Indian, was blind. He had a leather vest, and all of these weird talismans hanging on his vest and he had two beautiful women, one on each arm, and he debated me for a long time, about the Bible and the occult and a huge crowd of people gathered around while this debate went back and forth, and our team members were sharing the Gospel with them, and a several of them came to faith in Christ.
See that college night is a night of recruiting for witchcraft. The witches actually recruit college students, male and female into their religion. But we were recruiting them into Christ, and numbers of them came to faith in Christ. But the most amazing part of this whole story was yet to come. A day later we went on a church retreat to Cape Cod. The ocean was still heaving and churning. I remember seeing this, we drove by the ocean, it was still just amazing and we got to the retreat center, it was dark and it was a small church, we were there, and a young woman who was in our church named Heather came. She had been involved in the occult before she was converted, and she was very anxious to talk to me.
We weren't particularly close, but she was asking where's Andy and she wanted to know if I was okay, in particular. I said, "Sure what's up." Well, she asked if I'd gone to Salem the night before, had we done the outreach and she was very anxious about that. I said, "Yeah, it went great. We had a great time." I said, "Did you hear anything about it?" She said, "No, I didn't even know if you went. But I had a dream about you, the night before and I just wanted to be sure you're okay." I said, "Well, what was in the dream?" She said, "Well, in my dream, I was in the town hall," that's where we met for worship, the top hill town hall second floor, it's a Victorian era building. Very creepy. Except on Sunday mornings, okay? Then it wasn't creepy. But it was night time and the moonlight was coming in through the windows, in her dream and she was there with Satan, and Satan was tormenting her. I mean, things from her past probably.
And I came in, again, we weren't close and I wasn't a pastor, but I came in and I told Satan to be gone and he crashed through the window, and he was gone, and she was so filled with this fear about this dream and specifically about me and she said, "It was weird, too. I knew it was Satan, but he was dressed up like a blind American Indian." I said, "Have you heard nothing about our outreach?" She said, "No." It was like each of us had two parts of a puzzle that fit together. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. It would never have happened if I had given into the fear that Satan was putting around my heart, and not done that outreach. It would never have happened.
I am afraid for our church that we are too concerned to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe and not risk things in evangelism that we miss some of the greatest stories that God has set up in advance, for us to live in because of our fears and Isaiah 51 has the power to set us free, has the power to set us free. Basically, the message of Isaiah 51 is, look back at what God has done to gain strength and courage and hope for what God is yet to do in the future. That's what's going on in this chapter. The basic idea is this, despite all appearances, God will most certainly finish this incredible plan of salvation in this sin-cursed world and He will bring about perfect righteousness, and He will bring about salvation for his sinful people, resulting in eternal joy and celebration and any doubts we may have about this should be, instantly, swept away when we consider God's astonishing track record. The same God who created a nation from an elderly man and his barren wife can create a righteous nation, out of nothing. The same God who made a way through the sea can make a way through vicious enemies to establish Zion for all eternity. Look to the past to know that the future is staggeringly bright.
The Context of Isaiah 52
The immediate context is powerful, God is speaking a word of comfort across a century and a half through Isaiah the prophet to Jews who would be in exile in Babylon to comfort them for all the suffering they were enduring and to give them courage and strength. Keep in mind that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had not yet even been born when these words were first written but through the prophet, God looks beyond the time of His wrath and judgment on his people. He addresses His remnant as if he were actually looking backward on the events of the exile, and the judgment of God that happened at that time, he addresses his remnant at that point, he speaks in verse 3 of the Lord comforting Zion, that's Jerusalem, restoring her waste places making them like the Garden of Eden. These words would mean nothing if God were not going to make Zion, into a desert by destruction. He speaks in verses 17-20, directly of the destruction that God is going to bring on Jerusalem as a display of His righteous wrath against the Jews for their sin., Jerusalem will be drinking to the bottom, to the bitter dregs, a cup of God's judgment because of their sins. A remnant will be all that survives. But in this chapter God addresses that remnant. They're tormented by the memories of that slaughter, of the destruction of their beloved Zion. After that, they're tormented by the taunts and threats of their captors. Verse 7, verse 12 and 13, verse 23, all mentioned mocking terrifying tormentors.
God is promising that these mere mortals, He calls them in verse 12, will soon be drinking the same cup God's righteous wrath and judgment for their sins, verse 23. By contrast, God is making some amazing promises to His chosen people. He will repopulate that godly nation, He will establish again His people in their beautiful homeland but the promises of this chapter soar beyond just that. God will populate the heavenly Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, with people from all over the earth. He will destroy the entire universe. Heaven and earth will be destroyed, verse 6, wrapped up, like an old garment, and He will create a new heaven and a new earth, not mentioned in this chapter by clearly mentioned in Isaiah 65 and 66, in which His chosen people, will dwell eternally with great joy. God's going to do that. Until that happens, or as God is working out that plan to make that happen. God wants His people filled with joy, confidence, hope and power.
Despite the taunts of their oppressors and the apparent impossibility of these grand promises being filled, so that they can actually do the work of evangelism and missions that's going to be essential to making all of this happen. He wants us filled with confidence, and courage and power, so He calls on them again and again to awake and listen to Him. Shaking off weariness, sadness, fear, depression, shaking those things off in order to be confident of the future, God's people must look to the past as recorded in scripture. The same God who created the first Heavens and Earth will create the new Heavens and the new Earth. The same God who first called the people out of nothing from Abraham and Sarah will again create a people for His pleasure, to dwell in righteousness for all eternity, the same God who led Israel through the Red Sea and slaughtered Rahab the sea monster, symbol of death frankly, slaughtered that will bring them through that, through death, resurrection into eternal life. The same God who built the earthly Zion through King David will build the heavenly Zion through King Jesus. Look to God's actions in the past so you can look ahead with hope to the future. Then you can look on your tormentors unafraid, you can look at your persecutors unafraid, unimpressed.
I. Listen to Me! The God of Abraham Will Again Create Righteousness from Nothing (vs. 1-6)
So that's an overview let's look at it carefully now, verses 1-6, listen to me, the God of Abraham will again create righteousness from nothing. Verse 1 and 2, "Are you seeking righteousness? Are you seeking the Lord? Look to Abraham and Sarah, listen to the verses. I would urge you just look along in the copy of the Bible if you would, I'm going to just be following through the words of the text or just listen to me, verse 1 and 2, "Listen to me you who pursue righteousness, and who seek the Lord, look to the rock from which you are cut and to the quarry from which you are hewn, look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave you birth, when I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many."
So God calls to the godly His people in every generation, first the exiles in Babylon, and then beyond them to every one of his people in every generation in church history. To those he says who pursue righteousness, and who seek the Lord, those are believers in Christ right? We pursue righteousness and we seek the Lord. He calls on them to listen and to look, Listen to me, He says, by hearing the words of the prophets. Look by faith to the rock from which you were cut in the quarry from which you were hewn. Look to Abraham and to God's faithfulness to His promise to Abraham. Now Abraham in the Book of Galatians is called in Romans 2 our father in faith, if you're a Christian, a believer in Christ, Abraham is your spiritual father. Galatians 3:7 says that those who believe in Christ are children of Abraham." Romans 4 says speaks of all Abraham's offspring. Not just those who are of the law but also those who are of the faith of Abraham, he is the father of us all, as the Scripture says, "I've made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, the God in whom he believed, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
Look to Abraham our father in faith. Look to the supernatural circumstances of the beginning of the Jewish nation. A barren couple, no hope of children, God made a promise to him and he believed it, there wouldn't have been a Jewish nation, if it weren't for the miracle that God did with Abraham and Sarah verse 2, "When I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many." So you exiles to Babylon, do you think that the Jewish nation is over, all hope is lost? Well think again, the same God who raised Isaac out of that barren womb, will raise up a nation out of this seemingly death penalty. Now beyond that, you Christians, you aliens and strangers in this world, do you think God cannot redeem the elect from every tribe and language and people and nation? He can't redeem His elect people from closed countries, Muslim countries, He can't redeem His elect in communist countries or totalitarian regimes in the 10/40 window, He can think again, the same God who raised up Isaac is able to raise up His elect and populate the eternal Zion, He can do it.
Zion Will Be Transformed: From Desert of Sin to Paradise of Joy
Verse 3, Zion will be transformed from a desert to a paradise of joy. Verse 3, "The Lord will surely comfort Zion and look with compassion on all her ruins, he will make her deserts like Eden, her waste lands like the garden of the Lord, joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." So again Zion equals Jerusalem, the City of God where God dwells in fellowship with his people, generally just the physical city of Jerusalem, God at that point was not finished with the physical earthly city of Jerusalem. He would comfort Jerusalem, and he would look with compassion on all her ruins, Jerusalem would be destroyed ruined, turned to rubble by the cup of God's wrath that he was going to give them.
But that's not the end of the story. The image again is of a desert that's made to bloom like a garden, like the Garden of Eden, the sounds of celebration of worship and Joy will fill the streets once again. It's going to be a populated place. It's the exact same image and vision that Zechariah has in Zechariah 8:4-8, don't turn there but I'll just summarize what it says there, there the prophet Zechariah again before the exile, saw the streets of Jerusalem will once again be filled with old men and women watching streets filled with boys and girls playing there. So you picture these old people sitting on their stools and watching the little kids play like you would at a park. It's just going to be filled, and he says there in Zechariah 8, you think it's impossible but God can do it.
God will save his people from the east and the west, and gather them to live in Jerusalem, and they will be His people, and He will be faithful and righteous to them as their God, Zachariah 8:4,3. Exact same image here but better than the restoration of the physical Jews, to physical Jerusalem to rebuild the physical walls, and have a physical life there? Better than all of that is the ultimate purpose of God in building a heavenly Jerusalem, Heavenly Zion, through the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God's going to call the children of Abraham spiritually from every tribe and tongue and language and nation to the heavenly Jerusalem to live there forever, and the new Jerusalem will be far better than the Garden of Eden.
God's Salvation Goes Forth and Will Outlast this Universe
Now, I know that we're on the right track. If you just look at the next verses 4-6. "Listen to me my people, hear me my nation, the law will go out from me, my justice will become a light to the nations, my righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait and hope for my arm." Oh dear friends, this is missions language. Do you see it? My justice, a Light to the Nations, my righteousness, my salvation, justice to the nations, the islands will look to me and wait for me and hope. This is the language of missions, it's gospel language, the light to the nations is Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Christ. This message of the gospel is the message of God's righteousness for the whole world.
And so Paul says in Romans 1, "I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first, for the Jew, then for the gentile, for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, the righteousness that is from faith to faith just as it is written, 'the righteous will live by faith.'" That's the Gospel. That God, sent His son, the Lord Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary we just celebrated his birth, his incarnation at Christmas time and that Jesus lived a sinless life, and Jesus did astonishing signs and wonders, and taught amazing things, but most especially, He died on the cross in our place as our substitute, under the wrath and judgment of God for our sins. God made Him who had no sin to be sinned for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. And that if we just believe in this Christ crucified and resurrected we'll have eternal life.
That's the message, that's the good news in verses 4-6, that God's going to send to the islands, to the distant lands. God's righteousness is drawing near speedily. His salvation is coming, it's on it's way. Now, if I could just stop here and say, I don't know all of you and I don't know why you're here today, but it could be that God brought you as a lost person here just for this moment to hear this gospel. In the ancient words of Isaiah 51, to hear that Christ is a great savior flee to Christ, flee to Christ. The God of Isaiah 51 is a terrifying enemy but a great and loving Savior. So flee to Him, flee to Christ, don't leave this place unconverted. If you don't know how to trust in Christ, if you don't know what to do, come and talk to me afterwards, or any of the leaders of the Church or any church member. Church member that you get talked to, please share the Gospel with that person when they come.
But this is the place where you can come to have all of your sins forgiven, you don't have to walk out under the burden of your sins, but this is the message of verses 4-6, the distant islands are going to look to the same God and trust in Him.
John Paton, a Scottish missionary in the 19th century, got on board a boat and sailed a long, long distance to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific and there he went specifically as a missionary to some cannibals that he knew had killed and eaten the last missionary that was sent there in full view of the ship that had brought that missionary. And he went there anyway, and he led them to Christ, he established a Church there.
Don Richardson went to the island of Dutch New Guinea. He was from Calgary, Canada, and went to Dutch, New Guinea to the Sawi people. They also were cannibalistic head hunters, and they revered treachery. When they first heard the gospel story, they thought Judas was the hero because he had been tricky and treacherous and they loved that. How do you reach a people like that? But Don Richardson found something in their culture, something called the peace child, an analogy of the Gospel where warring kings would trade children and each of them would hold on to a child as a pledge concerning the other of peace between the two peoples, and he pounced on that as Christ as God's peace child to us. And as long as the peace child lives, there'll be peace between the entities and he used that to lead them to Christ.
Now listen, all of this missionary success to the distant islands was predicted in the Old Testament. Was predicted in the Book of Isaiah, we've been seeing it in Isaiah 42, it says, "In his law, the islands will put their hope." Again, same chapter Isaiah 42:10, "Sing to the Lord a new song. His praise from the ends of the earth. You who go down to the sea and all that is in it. You islands and all who live in them." And then Isaiah 49, remember this one? "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations," and in the Lord, or God speaking to Christ saying, "It's too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept., I will also make you a light for the gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." So, in Isaiah 49:1,6, its islands and ends of the earth and Christ is coming there. He's the light for the world.
And now, here again in Isaiah 51, look at Verse five, "My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way and my arm will bring justice to the nations, the islands will look to me and wait and hope for my arm." God is working an amazing salvation even for the distant islands to trust in Him, and the end of the story is nothing less than a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth. Look at Verse six, this is awesome.
"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath. The heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die like flies, but my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail." This is a clear prediction of the end of the world. Verse six, Isaiah 51:6, A clear prediction that everything you see with your eyes, all of this physical stuff will wear out like a garment and disappear some day. All of it, all of it. 2nd Peter 3 he says that the day the Lord will "bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness."
Revelation 21. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city a New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven like a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband."
II. Listen to Me! The God of the Exodus Will Again Make a Way for His People (vs. 7-11)
In verses 7-11, God calls on His people to listen to him. The God of the Exodus will again make a way for His people. Look at verses 7-8, he says, "Do not fear the taunts of men. God's salvation is going to outlast all of them." Verse 7, "Hear me you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts. Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults for The moth will eat them up like a garment, the worm will devour them like wool but my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations." God calls on His people, His godly in every generation." Again, look what he says, "You who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts... " That's regeneration language, where God takes out the heart of stone and puts in the heart of flesh, he writes his laws on our minds, in our hearts. That's the new covenant. So he's calling to you, what is he telling you to do, listen to him, "listen to me," He says, "Hear me, don't fear your enemies, don't be afraid of those who reproach you or taunt you or insult you."
Now, Nehemiah faced that when he was there rebuilding the rubble filled city of Jerusalem, rebuilding the wall, remember that and they started making progress and some enemy Sanballat and Tobias. You remember those guys and they started to mock the work. They said, "Why, if even a fox jumped up on this little wall they are building it, it would tumble down." So they're just pitching insults and mocking. The same happens with evangelists and missionaries. People would go out in faith, to share the Gospel mocking starts happening, opposition, persecution, taunts. We're going to have to face reproach, we're going to face insults for the name of Christ. Jesus told us to rejoice.
I had lunch recently with Jonathan who's a church member and serving the Lord in Central Asia and he told me that a Kazakh man there said to him. "I hate you." Can you imagine that being said straight out to you, right to your face. "I hate you, I hate everything about you, I hate what you're here to do, I hate that you've married a woman from our people. I hate what you're trying to do to our culture. I hate you." Jonathan filled with the Spirit said, "Well, I love you. I'm here because I love you, I want you to know Christ." But this is the kind of opposition. And they had a long conversation at the end of that. The man said, back to him. "Just the final words I want to say to you, is I hate you" and he walked away. Well, that's terrifying, intimidating, sad, hurtful. I shared with him at that moment Matthew 5:11-12 where Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
But it still hurts. And what this text says is if these enemies don't repent, a moth is going to devour them like wool and their worm will never die, and their fire will never be quenched. It says later in Isaiah, but God's salvation will shine like the sun for all eternity. So do not fear the reproach of men, he says.
Now in Verse 9-10, Isaiah speaking for us calls on God, to wake up. "Awake O Lord," he says. Look at verse 9-10, "Awake, awake, clothe yourself with strength o arm of the Lord, awake as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep? And who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over." The redeemed, in every generation, call on God to wake up, why? Because God sometimes seems like he's asleep, sometimes it seems like God isn't doing his plan.
Like, where is God in all of this, where is God in all of this, and this is prayer, they're calling, we're calling on God to move with His mighty strength like he used to do. "Do in our generation what we heard you did in the past? Move O mighty arm of God." That's what we do in prayer, we ask. In intersession, we say, "Oh God, build your church. Oh God, thrust out missionaries. Oh God, make us evangelists. Oh God, lead us to people here in this community who are ready to hear the Gospel."
The same God who pierced the monster Rahab through. What is this? It's like some kind of a mythological sea creature, I guess something like that, all kinds of interpretations of this, but I think it simply represents the death that the depths of the sea pose to us, the terror of the depths of the sea, the sea monster, it just kind of equals death to me and God killed it. God pierced that monster through.
Now, it's interesting, the next time we're going to see that word pierce is in Isaiah 53. We'll get to that in a few chapters. But, he pierces and kills death by the piercing of his son Jesus. And He made a way through the sea. "Moved out O arm of the Lord. Oh mighty God do in our day what you did in the past." So this is a simple application. Pray like this. Pray like this. Pray for God's church to be established here in the Raleigh/Durham area. Pray like this, pray for God's church to be established in unreached people groups. Say, "Move out O arm of the Lord."
Verse 11, the ransom will sing eternally. "The ransom to the Lord will return. The will enter Zion with singing, everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them and sorrow and sighing will flee away, salvation songs for all eternity, everlasting joy. Think about that, think about that phrase, everlasting joy crowning your heads, sorrow and sighing fleeing away."
Can't you see this cannot be fulfilled in the mere rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the city. There's no way. It's not everlasting joy, and sorrow and sighing never to be seen again. They're still surrounded by enemies. They're still under Gentile Domination. The Persians will give way to the Greeks, will give way to the Romans. No, no, this is about heaven. This is about the new Jerusalem, when the gates will always stand open, because there are no enemies, left and there'll be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Everlasting joy will crown your head and sorrow and sighing will flee away forever.
III. How Dare You Fear Man More Than Me? Through You I Will Establish Eternity! (vs. 12- 16)
Now, in verses 12 through 16, some of the most convicting words I've ever read on fearing people. It really just cut... It cut me to the heart that day, that Thursday. How dare... That's the tone I get here. "How dare you fear mortal men, more than you fear me. How can you do that?" God is saying to us. He's convicting us here. Look at the verses, "I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal man, the sons of men who are but grass? That you forget the Lord your maker who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor who is bent on destruction. For where is the wrath of the oppressor?" God challenges his weak, small, feeble, frail, children in every generation, not to fear man not to fear human opposition. He reminds them that he is the one who comforts them especially by the redeeming work of Christ. By Christ's death and resurrection, oh be comforted dear people. Be comforted.
And He commands them to fear God more than they fear men. It greatly dishonors God, if we fear men more than we fear God and disobey God as a result, that's just a great dishonor to God. Now, we do not minimize the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted in other places in the world. We don't minimize it. We don't minimize the fact that brothers and sisters are presently being imprisoned, tortured, beaten and killed for the faith. We're not minimizing that. We do not minimize the sufferings of those who are beheaded by ISIS or their families that fled from ISIS and grieved for their losses. We don't minimize that. We don't minimize our brothers and sisters who are being detained for questioning by the religious police in Iran. We don't minimize the suffering of house church pastors in China who are detained just for doing ministry, or ordinary ministry, in house churches and imprisoned.
But all of them and us must learn to fear the Lord infinitely more than we fear anything that man can do to us. Jesus put it very plainly, He said, "I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do nothing to you. I'll tell you the one to fear; Fear the one who after the death of the body has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him." That's Luke 12. Fear God, the God who created heaven and earth.
Now, American Christians, generally, do not face that level of persecution as we try to be faithful in evangelism. We generally are going to face horizontal societal rejection. Some insults, snide comments you might be held back at work, you might not get a promotion or a raise. You might even get a bad haircut. Okay, that happened to me once, as I was witnessing to a woman at Great Clips. And the next time I witness at Great Clips took more faith than the previous time because she said my hair cut was done and that was that. So that may happen and again, I'm not making light of it, but these are things that amazingly are still effective at keeping us from sharing their faith. "I might get a bad haircut." Yes, you just might but the Lord will reward you on Judgment Day.
So just ask yourself right now as an application, how does fear of man hinder you in being faithful in evangelism? What are you afraid of? Think of someone right now you would like to share your faith with. Think of someone. Thinking, thinking, thinking of someone. Ah a person, Okay. A lost person, just popped in your mind, I hope. You'd like to share with him or her, but you're afraid what will happen. Cut through the invisible bands of fear and be faithful and witness and share the Gospel with that person. Now, when we think about ISIS we think about vicious persecutors, we think about these words, Verse 13,14, "You live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor who is bent on destruction. For where is the wrath of the oppressor?" The cowering prisoners will soon be set free. They will not die in their dungeon nor will they lack bread."
God's going to set all the prisoners free. He's going to set his own children free from incarceration, but even better, more significantly, he's going to set his elect unconverted children free when they hear the Gospel and they get out of Satan's kingdom by repentance and faith, he's going to set them free. Those are the cowering prisoners that were set free that night in Salem. Luke 11, Jesus said this, speaking of Satan, "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe but when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils." Jesus is stronger than Satan and he's taking Satan's stuff, that's people, and he's plundering Satan's dark kingdom through the gospel, and that's awesome.
The Lord Who Rules the Sea Will Use You to Establish Eternity
Verse 15-16, the Lord who rules the sea will use you to establish His eternal plans. "I am the Lord your God who churns up the sea so that it's waves roar. The Lord Almighty is His name. I put my words in your mouth, I've covered you with the shadow of My hand. I, who set the heavens in place who laid the foundations of the Earth, and who say to Zion, 'You are my people.'" This is a direct reminder of God's splitting of the Red Sea, by a powerful east wind. For me, personally, it's a reminder of the perfect storm. Perfect storm, the triple storm system and the churning and the 30-foot waves and a God who can do that can do anything. What am I afraid of? What am I afraid of? Only thing I should fear is dishonoring him. We need to please God and advance the Gospel. Satan will use intimidation, he'll try to cow us so we stop preaching the gospel.
IV. Wake Up! The Time Has Come for Your Tormentors to Fall (vs. 17-23)
So wake up, verses 17-23, the time has come for your tormentors to fall. God is going to hand to Jerusalem, still in the future in Isaiah's day, a cup of wrath and they're going to have to drink it. Verses 17-20 talk about that. "Awake, awake, rise up O Jerusalem, you have drunk from the hand of the Lord, the cup of His wrath. You have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger. Of all the sons she bore there was none to guide her, of all the sons she rear there was none to take her by the hand. These double calamities have come upon you, who can comfort you. Ruin and destruction, famine and sword, who can console you. Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of every street, like an antelope caught in a net. They're filled with the wrath of the Lord and the rebuke of your God."
That's a description of the judgment that's going to come on Jerusalem, the cup of wrath handed into the hands of Jerusalem and they're going to have to drink it to the bottom, to the dregs. But verse 21-22, those days are now over, those days are over. Therefore hear this, you afflicted one made drunk but not with wine. This is what your sovereign Lord says, your God who defends his people. Behold, I have taken out of your hand, the cup that made you stagger. From that cup, the goblet of my wrath you will never drink again. There's going to come a time... First of all, for us as Christians, all condemnation is gone, because Jesus died. No fear of hell, no fear of condemnation. We're done. Tribulation and suffering is not done yet, and that's the cup we're drinking now. Some day even that cup is going to be taken and we'll never drink it again, we'll be free from death, mourning, crying, and pain.
But for our tormentors who never repent, who never find faith in Christ, verse 23. I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, that cup. Who said to you, fall prostrate that we may walk over you and you made your back like the ground like the street to be walked over. Some day God is going to judge them.
Alright, I've sprinkled applications throughout the sermon, I just want to give you a few final ones and we'll be done. The basic message of Isaiah 51 is look to the past to gain hope for the future. Look to what God has done in the past. So do it. Do it. Okay? So much of this book, so much of the Bible is history, so much of it is. Even ancient history. It's written so that we can learn the character of an unchanging God. God's the same yesterday, today, and forever. He'll never change. So he'll do different things in every generation, but he himself is the same, he never changes. So this book was written to give us hope and faith, we feed on it, read these stories be in the Word every day in 2015.
Can I just urge you? Read through the whole Bible in this year in 2015, there's so many different programs and plans. I use every day in the word with the ESP Bible and it takes about 12 to 15 minutes per day, and you get through the whole Bible in a year. Read through the Bible in a year and then add to it. Big faith step, memorize one verse a day. You can do it. I know you can. It can be done. 365 and 1/4 verses, pastor? No, just 365 verses, we're not in a leap year. So just 365. Just memorize Scripture, hide God's word in your heart. Build your faith. Now, especially look to what God's done in your life and in the Scripture in the past and be encouraged. Say, "Look at all the faithfulness God showed me." And look back to Christ crucified and resurrected. Keep your eyes on Christ, remind yourself that you are forgiven and strengthened by Christ. By Christ crucified. So trust in him, look to him. Believe in him for future grace.
Thirdly, marvel at how specifically God predicted missions in Isaiah. It's very, very clear. Isaiah 42:49-51 again and again, talking about the Islands. When Christ rose from the dead, he went to the upper room and he met with his disciples. In Luke 24 it says, "He opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures." Then he said, "This is what is written, that Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem." That's what was written. Well friends, it's written in Isaiah. So what does that mean for us? Let's be more missions-minded than we've ever been before in the year 2015. That's what God is doing in the world.
Let's give more money. I'm encouraged by Lottie Moon. We're not there yet, we're at 96,000, I think. But we've got money coming in. I would like to see missions giving 12 months a year, amen. Not just December, but 12 months. I would love to see more people going on short-term mission trips. I'll like to see more passionate prayer for unreached people groups. Get an app, joshuaproject.net, or something like that, and pray for an unreached people group every day in the year 2015. And especially, let's be active in evangelism. Let's seek people we can share the Gospel with. Let's risk things. Let's risk persecution. Some great stories are ready out there waiting to be told. Push through the fear and find those great stories. Find a neighbor, a co-worker, a total stranger, frequent a restaurant, go to that one place and build relationships for the sake of evangelism. I yearn to see more people converted, genuinely converted, baptized and then discipled by our church than ever before.
Fourth, look forward to the new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem. Yearn for it, delight in it, read about it. Look for the day when it's going to come and speed its coming. And ask God specifically until that time comes to fill you with hope and deliver you from fear of man. Close with me in prayer.